As physician to Vice President Joe Biden, Kevin O’Connor (D.O. ’92) provides primary care to the second family while at the White House; he’s also in charge of medical and emergency planning for every trip the vice president and his family take. That means no matter where the vice president is, O’Connor is there, too. It’s a huge responsibility—but O’Connor is used to that.
For the past 18 years, O’Connor has traveled to more than 74 countries as an army physician. He’s served numerous tours of duty with the 82nd Airborne Division, 75th Ranger Regiment, and U.S. Army Special Operations Command, and deployed on combat rotations to support classified missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Bosnia. As a charter member of the Committee on Tactical Combat Casualty Care, O’Connor helped rewrite the book on battlefield trauma care, with an emphasis on “point of wounding” care. When asked which of his numerous awards and decorations means the most to him, he points simply to the Combat Medic Badge, which is given to a medic or doctor for doing his or her job while sharing the peril of the infantryman under enemy fire.
At the White House, physicians are not part of the staff, but part of the military. O’Connor came on board in 2006 during the Bush-Cheney administration and expected to finish his three-year military assignment within a few months after President Obama was sworn in, but Vice President Biden asked O’Connor to stay on. “We are apolitical,” O’Connor says. “He’s never asked me if I am a Republican or a Democrat, and I’ve never asked him,” he adds, joking, “though I think he’s a Democrat.” Still, although O’Connor “serves the office, not the man,” he says, “I have never had a better commander than Joe Biden. All politics aside, he approaches his craft with such honor. He’s 100 percent ‘family first.’ He’s ‘genuinely genuine.’”
O’Connor enrolled in NYITCOM after attending college on an Army ROTC scholarship. It was at NYIT that he had a life-changing encounter with Army Maj. Gen. PHILIP VOLPE (D.O. ’83). Volpe, who served as a military physician for three decades, including as command surgeon in the Battle of Mogadishu, before retiring, was on campus to speak to other medical students serving in the military. “To me, he was bigger than life—a superhero with medals, a Purple Heart. A warhero doctor sitting down with a handful of army students,” O’Connor says. It was a meeting that shaped O’Connor’s aspirations and career path. “[Volpe’s] been a lifelong mentor, and I’ve been trying to serve as he has ever since,” he says. “I answered similar calls and now count him as a good friend. Today, I consciously give my time to students. If there’s even a small chance of inspiring someone the way he inspired me, I’ll take the time.”
Photo credits: David Lieneman